River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access – Just Add Friend (And Water)

Grab a friend (and an extra controller) for some classic co-op action in River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access - out now.

River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access will be a test of friendship, and no, this isn’t figuratively or narrative-based. No. It’ll be down to delegation, timing, and patience. Key ingredients for a relationship to stand the test of time. Oh my… is it one of those games? Not necessarily, but co-op is the name of the game.

Forget that friendly fire of Double Dragon and the recent Fight’N Rage – this game from Kid Onion Studio and Gravity Game Arise isn’t about clumsy punches thrown in the face of an ally, but more so whether your chosen partner can be relied upon to perform a simple ‘jump’. It’s worse when that person is you.

Yes, River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access is a co-op game, but it can also be completed if you have no friends, don’t like people, or are a control freak. Without a charged controller available on the PC, the first attempt with my daughter didn’t happen, so I opted for a solo campaign on the Steam Deck. First impressions were very good in terms of the presentation. It has a nostalgic feel, combining visuals from classic PlayStation games and Saturday morning cartoons, only with modern graphics.

River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access
Source: Steam

Without any dialogue, presumably, to make this marketable worldwide, the cutscenes were too literal at times, but at least you can’t complain to say you don’t know what’s going on. Besides, the animations are lovely, and the colours are vivid and uplifting, so that’s not so much a complaint, just an observation.

Gameplay in River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access is a classic setup: the cat, Furple, is responsible for everything on land and the fish, Finn, handles the aquatics. In order for one another to reach their goal (Furple to get home, Finn to go on a character journey about not being such a grump), the two rely on each other to access new areas through level pulling and switch hitting. Most important to note is Furple will instantly die if they touch the water, and the same for Finn if they hit land.

This is where it can be testing as there isn’t any sort of health in the game – you die and then respawn to a fairly reasonable checkpoint. My problem was playing Furple with the left side of the Steam Deck and Finn on the other (or vice versa – I forget!). Have you ever played a game in a two-player, perhaps to unlock an achievement, use the other player as bait, or to upgrade their stats while you solo it? Chances are you have to return to the other controller and incrementally move the character to continue. That’s what happens here in solo or Lone Wolf mode.

River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access - Van Halen
Van Halen. Source: Steam

Move Furple, pause, move Finn. Top that with some repeated deaths, and despite the gorgeous presentation, playing alone isn’t so much fun. Also, the Steam Deck likes to whirl quite a bit with the ‘intensive’ graphics. Oh dear… River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access doesn’t sound that good, does it? That’s from the perspective of a one-player; the game was made for co-op (consider the solo mode a bonus). As for a two-player, despite the occasional fallout when someone cocks up, it’s much better, and the game flows. Just make sure to bring two controllers, as the keyboard didn’t work at the time of writing.

Returning to the first impressions, River Tails: Stronger Together Early Access is a lovely-looking game. That solo experience wasn’t a bad one, but with so many games on the go, it didn’t get priority over the others. However, rally up your BFF or neighbour, or guilt trip one of your kids to help you do an article, and you’ll both be rewarded with some feel-good puzzle action not too dissimilar to Biped. Keep an eye on this one, as the roadmap looks very good. Perhaps snap it up while in Early Access?